7 Stops to See the Nation’s Natural Wonders on Route 66

While Route 66 is best known for its cultural landmarks and historic charm, travelers will also find wonders of the natural world at every bend. Visit these seven sites along the historic route for breathtaking landscapes and opportunities to learn about the nation’s diverse flora and fauna. Once you have clicked through for inspiration, add your own story to the National Trust's Share Your Route 66 Story Campaign, which aims to collect 2,026 sites before Route 66’s Centennial in 2026.

  1. View of a bridge going over a body of water at the border of Illinois and Missouri. The image has a blue sky that is reflecting off the water.

    Photo By: Elisabeth Lowe

    Chain of Rocks Bridge (Illinois-Missouri Border)

    The historic Chain of Rocks Bridge, spanning the Mississippi River on the northern edge of St. Louis, Missouri, offers visitors a picturesque and accessible way to enjoy the riverfront. The bridge once carried Route 66 traffic but fell into disrepair after it was closed to motor traffic in 1970. It was saved from demolition, renovated, and repurposed as a cycling and pedestrian route in the 1990s. Today, the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a critical link in the Mississippi Greenway.

  2. View of a bridge with route 66 signs in front.

    Photo By: Carrol Van West

    Devil’s Elbow Bridge (Missouri)

    The Devil’s Elbow Bridge, an iconic steel truss bridge along Route 66, spans the Big Piney River in southcentral Missouri. Constructed in 1923 as part of State Highway 14, the bridge was later incorporated into Route 66. A major rehabilitation project restored the bridge in 2013 and helped it earn designation in the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the bridge serves motor traffic and offers drivers striking views of the Big Piney River and the sharp turn or “devil’s elbow,” from which it derives its name.

  3. A black and white image of a mountain with a dark SUV in the forground.

    Photo By: Elisabeth Lowe

    Tucumcari Mountain (New Mexico)

    Tucumcari Mountain, a mesa known for its distinct shape, stands just outside Tucumcari, New Mexico. The site has an odd modern history — famed geologists flocked to it in the 19th century, local leaders proposed opening a sanitorium for tuberculosis patients on it in the 1920s, and the National Park Service rejected a bid to grant it national park status in the 1960s. Today, travelers along Route 66 can view the mesa and stop into Tucumcari to hear more of its local lore.

  4. Fossilized trees at the Petrified Forest

    Photo By: James Marvin Phelps

    Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

    Explore the surreal landscape of the Painted Desert alongside remnants of plants and animals from over 200 million years ago at the Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona. The park is most famous for its Triassic Period fossils, including its namesake fallen petrified trees. Today, these fossils mingle with a vibrant living ecosystem. Learn about the park’s ancient or modern flora and fauna at one of its labs, discover them for yourself using one of its many trails, or attend a cultural demonstration to learn about the art and culture of the area’s Indigenous Navajo and Apache peoples.

  5. Photograph of a pamphlet, rock, and a postcard showing Meteor Crater.

    Photo By: William Turnbaugh

    Meteor Crater (Arizona)

    A massive nickel-iron meteorite struck the earth some fifty thousand years ago in what is today northern Arizona. Its impact formed Meteor Crater, also known as Barringer Crater, a remarkable impact site 3,900 feet in diameter, over 550 feet deep, and wrapped by a rim rising 148 feet above the surrounding plains. Visitors can view the crater from lookout points, join a guided rim tour, or go to the Barringer Discovery Center and Space Museum at this National Natural Landmark, hailed as one of the world’s best-preserved meteorite craters.

  6. View of the entry sign at Bearizona Wildlife Park. The name of the park is on the top of the sign with a natural background just behind.

    Photo By: Miriam S.

    Bearizona Wildlife Park (Arizona)

    In Williams, Arizona, a wildlife park named for some of its most memorable residents sprawls across 160 acres of pristine wilderness. Turn off Route 66 to enter Bearizona Wildlife Park, where you can walk through Ponderosa Pine forest and encounter rescued badgers, beavers, and prairie dogs. Or opt for the three-mile driving route to see bighorn sheep, bison, and bears—oh my! Bearizona provides a home for orphaned wildlife and champions conservation initiatives to fulfill its mission of promoting preservation and providing unforgettable educational experiences.

  7. Winter view of Mojave National Preserve

    Photo By: Jeremy Ebersole

    The Mojave National Preserve (California)

    The Mojave Desert, nestled among the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains and Transverse Ranges, is a must-see natural wonder that stretches across southeastern California and southwestern Nevada and extends into parts of Arizona and Utah. Travelers heading west can stop at the Mojave National Preserve before reaching Route 66’s end point in Los Angeles, California. The 1.5-million-acre site offers a slew of outdoor recreational activities and opportunities to learn about the desert’s diverse ecosystems and the Indigenous Mohave people, who call the desert home.

Marianne Dhenin is an award-winning journalist and historian. View their portfolio and contact them at

The Mother Road turns 100 years old in 2026—share your Route 66 story to celebrate the Centennial. Together, we’ll tell the full American story of Route 66!

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